A music festival is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. The organizers of last Saturday’s Bayou City Bonanza are the residents in this scenario. They’re good people, who put a lot of hard work into the event. Last week, we spoke with Adam Kayode O. Gamble-Uguru, the event’s mayor, so to speak. He told us of the Bonanza’s ambitious goals, which, in part, included fundraising efforts for the benefit of a spina bifida patient and Foxtail Pet Rescue.
We were rooting for the event. Having attended successful fests in the past organized by the same folks, we were hopeful. But, like so many upstart events of this nature, BCB struggled to bring the eager masses to its hamlet. Despite the meager crowd, though, the welcoming committee – the day’s entertainment acts – rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Bands sweated buckets and played new songs. Comics braved the dire circumstance of telling jokes to a large and mostly empty room. And the event's headliners, Purple and Fat Tony, did their best to give anyone who did turn up their money’s worth.
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Admittedly, we arrived late in the day, so missed some acts that deserved our attention, if only for playing their sets in the sweltering heat of a Houston afternoon in July. We heard on good authority that Baytown acoustic folk-rock poets Kloanoa turned in a solid set, as did the reliable The Wayward Sons. The heat was assuredly one of the factors that slowed the event’s tourism (sticking with the theme here, folks). Another was Houston’s roadways. Imagine all roads to Disney World jammed with traffic due to construction (Interstate 10) or a visiting ComicCon (Highway 59) and you get the picture.
When we arrived a little after 5 p.m., A Fistful of Soul was packing up. A week earlier, their crowd was busting at the Continental Club’s seams, but this afternoon few were on hand for their vintage soul offerings. We Were Wolves followed and noted it was their first time playing Eastdown, a venue tailor-made for their bone-rattling guitar sound. Then they drove home songs like “Heavy Shrimp,” which is so good it’s like a “Possum Kingdom” for this Texas alt-rock era. It’s just nasty. Singer Drew Haught introduced the title track to the band’s latest EP, Ruin Your Weekend, by announcing, “This song’s on…YouTube. We’ve fucking made it,” which earned a few laughs.
That’s not saying nothing. Laughs are hard to come by when it’s incredibly hot, when daylight is streaming into a venue and when the few people who could be laughing don’t have others or even a two-drink minimum in ‘em to spur on the contagious effect of hearing something genuinely funny. Those were the circumstances some of our favorite comedians faced, people like Jaffer Khan, Liz Padjen and Dale Cheesman. The good news here was delivered by Gabe Bravo, the wry funnyman who noted midway through his set, “I know all of you. This is like being naked in front of my classmates. This is not okay.” The good news being none of us were making a first impression of these game acts from this particular gig.
That was the case for some of us regarding outdoor-stage acts. We got a couple of new musicians to follow thanks to BCB, notably Ashley Franklin and Sam Oesch. Both are singer-songwriters. Franklin’s voice is like bubbling volcanic lava. It sort of steams out in a quiet way until she’s ready to erupt. She sent her share of magma out over the Eastdown parking lot during her set. Oesch’s vocals are more delicate, her songs and playing style are more aligned with the easy pace of far-off, away-from-the-loop places like Rosenberg, from which she hails.
There’s more to an event like this than just what’s on stage. Meeting fellow Houstonians is a big part of the fun. Heading back into the venue for Purple and Fat Tony, we stopped to chat with Michael, one of the event’s security personnel. Imagine Vin Diesel the way Vin Diesel would like to imagine himself – much younger and much taller and much more intimidating.
“Aside from drunks, who will mess with anyone, what sort of person would attempt to tussle with you?” we asked.
“A crazy one,” was his honest response.
He then explained the art of dialogue as a means to vanquish one’s misplaced bravado. He offered a no-nonsense handshake and wished us a good evening. Nice guy.
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Next, we caught some bad kids: the fun troublemakers from Purple. They played favorites, like “Beach Buddy,” which has vocalists Taylor Busby and Hanna Brewer trading lines like Fred and Kate from The B-52s, over music that evoked Jan and Dean with guitar distortion. They sprinkled some songs from a soon to be released album into the set, including a funky track that revealed some Red Hot Chili Peppers influence and “Geneva,” the next-in-line to a growing list of catchy Purple songs.
If you took the willingness of every BCB act and rolled them into one person, you’d have Fat Tony, the show's closer. Following a set by DJ Trigg Biggum that bridged more than an hour’s time between the co-headliners, he took to and commanded the Eastdown stage, giving no damns at all for how many people were or were not there for his spirited set. How nonplused was he? He started the show by joining the audience and forming a Soul Train line, from which he shimmied onto the stage. He reminded us he’s “glad I grew up” a “Smart Ass Black Boy,” and even hit his knees to plead his case, a la James Brown, with DJ iLL Faded serving as Maceo. His stage presence is more honed than many rappers who exceed his years or fortunes, thanks, at least in some measure, to his influences, which run the gamut from U.G.K. to the Ramones. It was obvious on offerings like “BKNY” and especially “Denim Guinness Boys,” where he rapped seamlessly while wrapped in a Nigerian flag and got the crowd chanting the song’s chorus.
A final note on Bayou City Bonanza’s attendance would be that the festival debuted the same week that Houston Whatever Fest announced its return for a second installment. Last year, that festival opened with smaller than anticipated crowds, but was a solid event. Some tweaks were made (it’s been moved to a cool-weather month, if such a thing exists here) and the event looks primed for a more successful sophomore outing. Here’s hoping Gamble-Uguru and his cohorts keep thinking big and that more of us will catch on to the exciting shows they’re offering.